Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Wednesday Roundup

Welcome to Wednesday! I hope you are all having a good week; in my part of the Rural Republic, fat cattle are going out today and high moisture corn will be coming in tomorrow. So, without further ado, here is (some of) the news of the day.

As I wrote about here, a major concern for many rural communities is the out-migration (or "brain-drain") of young people from their hometowns. The High Plains Journal reported this week on a presentation by Weldon Sleight, the dean of the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture, on the college's philosophy of encouraging agricultural entrepreneurship - going "back to our base" in farm country - to revitalize rural areas. Also important, according to Sleight, is instilling a sense of community pride both in youth and adults. This includes supporting local, small businesses. "It kills me," he says, "when people drive 40 miles to go to Walmart when their local hardware store is about to close."

However, not everyone is convinced that focusing so much attention on getting young people to stay (or come back) is the best way to "bring new life" to small towns. Kathie Starkweather of the Center for Rural Affairs in Lyons, Nebraska told Radio Iowa this week that small towns would be better served to "let them go" and target, instead, Baby Boomers and senior citizens. Many people over 50, she says, are interested in starting small businesses and small towns offer what they want: "“The basic quiet, not having to be involved in the rat race but also being allowed to participate in the community.”

To change subjects a little bit, the Visalia (CA) Times-Delta ran a story about a University of California study examining tensions between six "semi-rural" cities in California and the neighboring farmers. The author detailed frustrations on both sides, such as farmers having equipment stolen and vandalized, and city dwellers being irritated by dust and noise. Perhaps not surprisingly, though, the "authors of the university report indicate that the chances for compatible relations between farmers and urbanites will mostly require farmers to adjust or revise their traditional practices."

Finally, NPR had an interesting report on Cuban agriculture that could serve as something of a cautionary tale. "After five decades of state-controlled agriculture," the story says, "the country struggles to feed itself, forcing the government to import some 70 percent of the island's food." When all of the farmland was nationalized with the rise of the communist regime, those who had farmed it walked away. Now, the government is trying to encourage food production by giving anyone willing to farm a free ten-year lease on federal land. Some of those taking advantage of the program are highly educated former employees of the government who are eager for entrepreneurial opportunities, however limited. As one new farmer says, "We can't all be intellectuals, because then there'd be nothing to eat."

Now that's food for thought.


  1. I wanted to respond to your recent blog post in Wednesday’s Roundup. I believe you misunderstood.

    I enthusiastically support the work that Dr. Sleight is doing to turn the tide of rural youth outmigration and I am working with him on some of those initiatives. (I would encourage you to read the newsletter article that prompted the media release behind your post at I consider Dr. Sleight to be a visionary and one of our best partners in this work.

    I also encourage you to read or listen to the public radio story that I’m assuming is the foundation of your post at My points about youth and baby boomers was not an either/or statement.

    As indicated in the article above, I feel very strongly that we need to address youth outmigration in order to turn it around and revitalize our communities so we do end up filling all of the main street businesses instead of just some of them.

    Kids go off to college and not all of them will come back home or to any rural community, so, in addition to working hard to recruit and retain youth, we should also be recruiting boomers. That was the message I intended.

    Thank you for the work you do. Attention to all of these issues is extremely important and the more people doing it the better off we will be.

    Kathie Starkweather
    Center for Rural Affairs

  2. Ms. Starkweather, thank you for clarifying the statement. I believe you were misrepresented in the story I linked to above, as it reads, "one expert says let them go and target a different audience. Kathie Starkweather, at the Center for Rural Affairs, says communities should instead work to attract Baby Boomers and senior citizens."

    It's good to know your true position on the matter, and I appreciate you stopping by our little blog. I hope you find it to be interesting and that you come back as we try to continue exploring topics relating to rural America. If you have time, I'd be very interested to hear what you have to say about my "A Clog in the Brain Drain" post, which is the first link in the roundup above.

    Thanks again!